The Netherlands was accused this week of following Nazi precedent by voting to outlaw the kosher slaughter of animals in a move which has shocked Jewish communities across Europe.
By 116 votes to 30, the Dutch Parliament called for a ban on religious slaughter without pre-stunning – which effectively prohibits shechitah as well as the production of halal meat for some of Holland’s Muslims.
Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din and one of the rabbinic authorities for shechitah in Britain, said: “Holland was second to none in the mass deportation of Jews. It’s no wonder that they have no shame in copying the Nazi ban on shechitah.”
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who visited the Netherlands last month to lobby for shechitah, denounced the move as “a dark day in Dutch history”.
He blamed the vote on “a mischievous campaign by the animal rights lobby, based on emotive images and questionable science. By becoming the first member of the EU since its foundation to ban shechitah, Holland, which once led Europe in promoting religious liberty, now leads Europe in abandoning it.”
The ban will only come into force if the Dutch Senate approves it later this summer and politicians left a theoretical loophole by adding that religious slaughter would be permitted to continue if it did not cause the animals more pain than stunning.
Rabbis do not allow pre-stunning of animals because an animal must be uninjured before slaughter for kosher use and stunning practices such as electrocution or a captive bolt to the brain leave injuries.
Shechitah campaigners insist that the traditional Jewish method is humane because a swift cut to the throat renders an animal unconscious within a couple of seconds.
Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said his organisation would seek legal means to reverse the Dutch decision: “We cannot let such a blatantly discriminatory law stand without fighting it, especially as it stands contrary to European standards and freedoms.”
“This could serve as a terrible precedent for other parts of Europe and tells the Jews that they and their customs are no longer welcome.”
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the recently installed president of the Conference of European Rabbis, declared: “The practical effects of this bill mean that Jews are no longer welcome in the Netherlands. This has not happened for 70 years.”
He added: “We will not rest until this discriminatory, intolerant and hateful bill is thrown out.”
Dutch Jews and Muslims had fought for months against the campaign to ban religious slaughter, which was led by the country’s small Animal Welfare Party and backed by Social Democrats, Liberals and Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party. Opposition to the ban came mainly from Christian parties.
Although some Muslim groups permit pre-stunning for halal meat, others remain opposed. Dr Shuja Shafi, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain’s food standards committee, said: “We have always maintained that stunning does not conform to religious requirements.”
A key condition, Dr Shafi explained, is that the animal must be alive at the time of slaughter, but that could not be guaranteed with stunning. Describing the Dutch decision as a “retrograde” step, he said: “Religious slaughter is the most humane method of slaughter.”
Dutch shochet Rabbi Lody van de Kamp said: “The only time Holland knew of a ban on shechitah was during the Second World War. It was the first measure which the occupying Nazi regime took against the Dutch Jewish community.”
Shechitah is banned in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, while Switzerland permits the kosher slaughter only of chickens. The British government has in the past rejected calls by animal rights groups for compulsory pre-stunning to be universally applied.
Henry Grunwald, chairman of Shechita UK – which only recently thwarted a move in the European Union that would have made kosher meat unviable – said: “It is a sad day for religious freedom in Europe when legislation is passed based on flawed, unsubstantiated science, merely to appease an ill-informed animal welfare lobby. The suggestion that shechitah is anything but a humane method of slaughtering animals for food is offensive and unsound.”